After months of mostly stress-free living on the court, the Anchorage Christian School boys basketball team found itself dripping with drama for the second consecutive day Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center.
And once again, senior Demarcus Hall-Scriven and the Lions stayed calm to ultimately drink in the glory of the program’s sixth Class 3A state championship and its first since 2011.
Almost 24 hours after lifting ACS to the title tilt with late points in a two-point win in the semifinals, Hall-Scriven deftly knocked down a pair of free throws with 8.7 seconds remaining as the Lions held off determined Valdez 56-53.
ACS (28-1 overall) led 2-0 early and not again until four minutes remained in the third quarter. The Lions outscored Valdez 13-11 in the final quarter and made five of its final seven free-throw attempts in the last 28.6 seconds.
The showcase of composure proved a fine final act for the champions. In 26 games prior to the state tournament, ACS won 25 games and outscored opponents by an average 22.2 points per game.
“Just like (Friday’s semifinals), I could’ve missed,” Hall-Scriven said of Saturday’s pressure-packed free throws. “Things could have gone either way.
“As things went along today, we knew we had to make free throws and execute our offensive plays while playing great defense. Everything starts on the defensive side.”
Saturday, it was Valdez coming out of the blocks with its defensive game at full throttle. The Buccaneers lost two regular-season meetings against ACS by 66-53 and 59-42 counts, but scored 14 of the championship game’s first 16 points. Moments later, Valdez senior Isaac Watson’s layup gave his squad a 19-7 edge.
Valdez scored 11 of its 31 first-half points off 11 ACS turnovers.
“We knew Valdez would be tough and really come out,” said Lions coach Zack Madren, a 2004 ACS graduate who was a freshman when the Lions finished second at state in 2001. “I told my guys how we wanted to be the ones throwing the first punch, but obviously we caught the first punch.
“It just says a lot about our players’ poise that we were able to work it back to even and regroup.”
ACS scored eight of the first quarter’s final 10 points to close within 21-16. Senior Danilo Guzman finished with a team-team-high 12 points, including four in the first-quarter run.
Kacey Hayner’s five straight points for ACS tied the game 25-25, and the teams remained tied at halftime, 31-31.
Valdez coach Todd Wegner said he knew his squad would come out much better than it did in its previous losses to ACS back in January.
“That was so long ago,” said Wegner, the two-time reigning 3A coach of the year. “I told our guys they could now play with anybody and we came out with great enthusiasm.
“We showed how we’re a great group of men with great cohesiveness.”
Valdez (23-6) struggled to hit third-quarter shots while the Lions started to find their stroke. Guzman’s inside basket completed a 8-0 run and gave ACS a 43-37 lead with 3:09 remaining in the third.
Valdez senior Logan Heckathorn (13 points) gave the Buccaneers a 50-49 lead with 2:02 left to play, but Josh Davis scored his only points of the game to put ACS back up, 51-50.
LaBonte joined Heckathorn with 13 points for Valdez, which appeared in the tournament title game for the first time since winning it in 2004. Jalen Freeman scored eight of his 10 points in the first quarter.
Hall-Scriven finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Orlando Lozano, the 3A Player of the Year, made three 3-pointers en route to 11 points.
Guzman, Hayner, Hall-Scriven and Lozano joined Will Parks, Fredrick Onochie (eight points, seven rebounds), Jason Cho, David King and Jayden Thomas on ACS’ senior-laden squad. Saturday’s win completed exactly what that group started the season wanting to do.
“We had to do this,” Hall-Scriven said. “It took four years, but this what we were looking for all this time.”
Grace Christian 46, Eielson 36
Grace Christian used a 20-9 fourth-quarter edge to sneak by Eielson 46-36 and earn the tournament’s third-place trophy.
Nathan Ivanoff fueled the Grizzlies with 12 points, Turner Goforth chipped in 10 points and Nathan Harriman collected eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Eielson’s Matthew Scarboro led all scored with 13 points, including three 3-pointers.
Monroe Catholic 45, Sitka 40
Quinn McHenry made all eight of his free throws and finished with 16 points and eight rebounds in Monroe Catholic’s 45-40 fourth-place win over Sitka.
The Rams outscored Sitka 18-14 in the fourth quarter to eke out the victory. Isaac Garcia scored 16 points and Gabriel Silas added 11.
CJ Taccad paced the Wolves with 14 points.
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
Matthew Scarboro, Eielson
Nathan Ivanoff, Grace Christian
Demarcus Hall-Scriven, ACS
Stephan Anderson, Nome
Jalen Freeman, Vadlez
Fredrick Onochie, ACS
Issac Garcia, Monroe Catholic
CJ Taccad, Sitka
Quinn McHenry, Monroe Catholic
Kyler LaBonte, Valdez